Memories of Sheffield’s ‘beating heart’ still linger after years of decline and recent ‘awakening’

On the wall of the Attercliffe Liberal Club there is a poem in pride of place among the old photos and sporting memorabilia.

By Dan Hayes
Friday, 08 March, 2019, 16:13
Dave Ball and Debbie Maw at the Attercliffe Liberal Club.

Entitled ‘The Death of a District’, it is a eulogy for the community the once lived there.

“Oh Attercliffe, Dear Attercliffe, what ‘ave they done to thee?” it begins.

Attercliffe high street.

“It breaks my ‘eart to see’er, after what she used to be.”

Once the beating heart of Sheffield’s steel industry, industrial decline left Attercliffe best known for sex shops, massage parlours and swingers’ clubs.

The houses, derided as ‘slums’ by the powers that be, were knocked down and the people moved out, followed by services like schools and libraries.

But while many of the buildings and people may have gone, the ties that bound it together remain just as strong in people’s minds.

June Lowe at the Attercliffe Liberal Club.

And a new phase of development is trying to create a new - albeit very different - community in place of the one that left.

June Lowe, aged 57, was born in Attercliffe but left the area when she was 16 in 1977.

“You would not believe the changes that have happened,” she said.

“Everywhere was just houses. Thousands of them.”

Attercliffe.

“I was really sad when they went because they were not slums - that really hurt.

“People never wanted to leave Attercliffe but we had no choice.”

The Attercliffe Liberal Club - or ‘Little Lib’ as patrons call it - which, along with the Carlton pub further up Attercliffe Road, is one of the few links left with the way the area used to be.

Club steward, Dave Ball, also grew up in the area and used to come in the club as a child, but after moving away to Southey, came back more than 50 years later.

Attercliffe liberal club.

He says the area used to be jam packed full of businesses including giants like Brown Bayleys and well over 50 pubs, 'far too many for a pub crawl’.

The pair say people who left the area when the houses were demolished still come back to the club, despite not having lived in there for years.

Some also choose to have their funerals there - brought back in death to the place that meant so much to them - with one even having his ashes scattered outside its door.

And a very popular Facebook group has been set up for former residents to share memories of where they grew up, keeping the community going in the virtual world as well.

Mohammed Ali, chair of the Pakistan Muslim Centre on Woodburn Road, came to the area in the late 1960s as an eight year old.

“This was the place that everybody lived,” he said.

Old Attercliffe.

“It was like a city within a city, really vibrant with the streets always full.”

“From Staniforth Road all the way up to Meadowhall. There were shops all the way along. You didn’t need to go anywhere else and people would come from miles around.

“The greengrocers and the butchers and the fishmongers, there were just rows and rows of them. You could find anything you wanted to.”

Mohammed said his community felt a strong attachment to the area as it was the place they started their lives in England.

“These are our roots and there was a real sense of community spirit,” he said.

“But when the steel industry declined it just emptied out - it would be nice to see the area was rejuvenated.”

Justin Brooks, owner of the Library Cafe and Restaurant, is one of the people trying to make that rejuvenation happen.

In the magnificent former Attercliffe library - which also served as one of the town’s first job centres, they have converted the ground floor into one of the coolest coffee shops you can imagine, which also serves tapas and hosts regular jazz and blues nights.

Since opening in October, he says business has ‘just taken off’ thanks in part to the wealth of development that is taking place around them.

The one thing the area needs now, he says, is more affordable housing

“That sense of it being a community again is what we are missing but it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“There are some flats popping up here and there but I don’t know why we are building new when there are so many great buildings we could use like this one.”

But despite its drawbacks, Justin says the area has just got ‘under his skin’, so much so he will soon open another coffee house and deli on the high street later this year.

When the old back-to-back terraces were knocked down, it was always envisaged - promised even - that they would one day come back.

Now, with the huge development taking place around the Olympic Legacy Park on Attercliffe Common, many are urging Sheffield Council to come good on its word.

David Slater is managing director of Spaces Sheffield, who own around nine units in the area, including the building that houses the Library Cafe and Restaurant.

He says he passionately wants to turn an area that was ‘decimated’ by the demise of the steel industry into somewhere that the city can be proud of once more.

“There is a real opportunity to put thousands of apartments down here, and they could do something really special along the canal,” he said.

“I don’t know why Attercliffe couldn’t become like New Islington in Manchester.”

“But the human dynamo that is Richard Caborn has said we are going to make things happen and bring that community spirit back.

“We are putting the beating heart back into Attercliffe - it is like an awakening.”

With all the impressive development springing up all around them, it is easy to get caught up in the ambition of David and those like him for the future of the area.

But concerns remain that the riches that are being lavished on Attercliffe Common might not find its way to the dilapidated and seedy high street just up the road.

And there are obvious tensions between the developers’ vision and what those who seek to preserve the old Attercliffe want, but June hopes that the two plans can sit alongside each other.

“They are trying to put Attercliffe on the map again and we are trying to keep what’s still there,” she says.

“But hopefully the new development will bring people back. If it does I am all for it.”

Attercliffe Liberal Club.
Banner department store. Attercliffe.
Attercliffe Liberal Club.
Library Cafe and Restaurant
Justin Brooks
Attercliffe high street today.
David Slater.